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Jules Verne

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  • December 9, 2012
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Among the most realistic of Verne's "imaginary voyages", this novel describes how Phileas Fogg, a reclusive, eccentric, British bachelor, wagers some members of his club that he can travel completely around the globe in just eighty days, based on rail and steamer schedules available to this very punctual man. So off he goes, on what should have been a fun-filled, adventure-packed journey. Unfortunately, this precursor to the science fiction novel has not held up well over the years, and it's really a testimony to the ever-changing world that we live in that this was ever considered an adventure novel. Too often the action takes place "out of scene" and is only described after the fact, losing the story's intensity and immediacy. The characters are quite one-dimensional; Passepartout, the faithful French manservant, provides only the barest minimum of comic relief, and Aouda, the love interest, isn't much more successful. The real stars should have been the different cultures and modes of transport experienced by the travelers, but even these are often treated in a cursory fashion. Instead, the focus is on timetables and detours and the hapless Detective Fix, who believes that Fogg is wanted for robbery. It seems as though Verne had a clever idea for a short story (that is, he had the conclusion, or "hook", for a puzzle-type story), but needing a round-the-world tour to make it work, found himself writing a novel that he really had relatively little interest in. As a result, the story doesn't really heat up until the very end, and even there the final twist will not manage to surprise many contemporary readers. A very light entertainment, but no longer very impressive or imaginative in a world where astronauts orbit the globe in hours. This story might have seemed remarkable to those born before the days when commercial aviation made the world such a small place, but younger readers will probably find this book far too tame to suit their tastes.